Bellingham to consider putting 4th Greenways levy to voters

The Cornwall Avenue beach on Bellingham Bay Thursday, July 23, 2015. The Cornwall park would be one of the projects that could get attention and money under the next round of Greenways funding, called Greenways IV, if voters approve it.
The Cornwall Avenue beach on Bellingham Bay Thursday, July 23, 2015. The Cornwall park would be one of the projects that could get attention and money under the next round of Greenways funding, called Greenways IV, if voters approve it. The Bellingham Herald

The City Council could ask Bellingham residents to vote on a new 10-year Greenways levy as soon as the Nov. 3 election to continue paying for parks, trails and green spaces.

The council’s Parks and Recreation Committee will discuss the levy Monday, July 27, including whether it should go before voters this fall. On Monday, the committee also could decide whether to send it to the full City Council that night.

City Councilman Jack Weiss is bringing the proposal to the council.

But Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, while making clear her support for the Greenways program, said she was concerned that there hadn’t been enough public input about the proposed levy, known as Greenways IV, and the projects it would fund. Also, the citizens committee that has been working on the proposal — the same group that would campaign for the measure — said it wanted the levy to go before voters in April.

“I’m very excited that there is some public interest in going forward with Greenways IV,” Linville said. “One of the hallmarks of our Greenways process has been to involve the public every step of the way. What we have done in the past is we have a fairly robust public process to make sure we’re focusing on the kind of parks and recreation investments that the public really supports.

“We have not had an opportunity to do that yet. We don’t have time to do that before the November ballot,” Linville added.

Weiss acknowledged that previous levies had a more widespread public process, but he noted a difference this time around.

“I think the whole concept of Greenways has matured. A lot of people in the community know its benefits and what it can do for everyone as far as an amenity for Bellingham. The issue has to do more with if we like it, can we trust the groups that have been involved in making decisions in the past to continue doing it into the future?” he said, noting that some on the citizens committee have been involved with previous Greenways.

The categories of expenditures also were kept purposefully broad to allow discussion with the community, and as new opportunities arise, going forward, he added.

Weiss also said that the city would have to pay up to $160,000 for an election if the next Greenways levy goes to voters in another election where it doesn’t already have other races on the ballot as it does in November.

A group of citizens started the Greenways program in 1990 to raise money to buy land for parks and trails, preserve open space and for conservation. Bellingham voters have passed three property tax levies since then to support the effort, including Greenways III in 2006.

Aug. 4 is the deadline for putting a measure on the November ballot, so the council must decide to do so Monday because it doesn’t meet again until Aug. 10. Greenways III runs through the end of 2016.

This would be the fourth such levy to go before voters. If they approve it, Greenways IV would raise about $46.9 million over a decade.

“The proposal that is going forward on Monday is really trying to address the current needs of the Greenways program. It is dramatically changed from 10 years ago when Greenways III was approved,” Weiss said.

The proposed levy rate is for a maximum of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

That’s less than the maximum of 57 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value of the three previous Greenways.

“We wanted to show that we’re being very frugal with the way we’re spending money,” Weiss said of the lower starting rate. “People are being taxed a lot and we’re trying to be realistic here with the voters.”

The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $125 in 2016, the first year of Greenways IV should voters approve it in November. The rate would drop slightly each subsequent year.

If voters approve IV, the levy for Greenways III wouldn’t be applied in its last year in 2016, according to Weiss.

As currently proposed — “They’re the guidelines, not a hard and fast rule,” Weiss said — Greenways IV would focus less on buying land and more on developing and maintaining properties that have been acquired.

The funding splits are:

▪ About 50 percent for development, specifically what’s now being called Cornwall Beach Park at the end of Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham, where a proposed over-water walkway would be connected.

The focus also would be on 21 acres the city bought in March to develop as regional park for the north side.

Weiss said Greenways IV would address needs on the waterfront and the northern part of Bellingham.

By comparison, Greenways III set aside 31 percent for development and improvement.

▪ 25 percent to buy property, with a focus on completing trail connections and linking to anchor parks. That’s compared to 60 percent for Greenways III.

▪ 20 percent for maintenance and operations.

▪ 5 percent for the Greenways Preservation Endowment, with interest earnings also going toward maintenance.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Up next

What: Bellingham City Council discussion about the next Greenways levy, which is being called Greenways IV, and whether the measure should be put on the Nov. 3 ballot. The matter will go before the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, which could decide whether to put it before the full City Council at its regular meeting that night.

When: 1:05 p.m. Monday, July 27, for the committee meeting; 7 p.m. for the regular City Council meeting.

Where: Council Chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

Details: Go to cob.org/meetings.